Former Federated Farmers Prsident and now ACT candidate, Andrew Hoggard

Federated Farmers President Andrew Hoggard’s decision to stand for ACT confirms a growing divide in farmer and centre-right politics.

Hoggard and ACT lean towards a more rejectionist approach to issues like agricultural emissions, while National leans towards a more bipartisan approach.

As a consequence, agricultural policy would be likely to be a major fault line in any government formation talks between the two parties. Hoggard’s move to ACT comes after their agricultural spokesperson, Mark Cameron, has won widespread support and respect within the farming community while National seems to have had problems trying to attract farmer MPs.

But a window has opened with the possibility that Cameron, who has been ill, may not stand again. (ACT leader David Seymour says he will be standing.)

Hence, it would seem, the recruitment of Hoggard.

And for National, the presence of such a big farming name in ACT raises questions about its own support from its supposed heartland, its farmers.

National does not have strong farmer representation in its caucus.

This election it will lose two former agriculture spokespeople: Todd Muller and David Bennett along with he under-rated Rangitikei sheep and beef farmer Ian McKelvie.

The party’s farmer MP drought is exemplified in the appointment of Rotorua MP Todd McClay as agriculture spokesperson.

He is not a farmer, nor ever has been, but he is there because he is one of the party’s best political streetfighters, and POLITIK understands his mission is to win farmer votes back from ACT.

Advertisment

The party has three farmers standing in winnable seats this year; Grant McCallum in Northland, Suze Redmayne in Rangitikei, and Miles Anderson in Waitaki.

The potential dividing line between ACT and National is over climate policy.

But it is only a potential division because National is reviewing its policies at present, and there are widespread expectations that it will withdraw at least somewhat from its previous position of whole-hearted endorsement of the Zero Carbon Act and the He Waka Eke Noa proposal to deal with farm emissions.

Federated Farmers, under Hoggard, sent shock waves through agricultural politics last November when it set out three bottom lines before it would agree to continue supporting He Waka Eke Noa.

The Feds had been part of the process since He Waka Eke Noa was launched in March 2020, but Hoggard told a farmer protest meeting in Invercargill last October that they had always been reluctant participants.

He told a farmer protest meeting in Invercargill last October that the Feds had only continued within the HWEN partnership because of its original principles.

They were that the agriculture sector would work with the Government to design a pricing mechanism “where any price is part of a broader framework to support on-farm practice change” and “only to the extent necessary to incentivise the uptake of economically viable opportunities that contribute to lower global emissions,” he said.

But when the Government responded to farmers on the He Waka Eke Noa proposals and ruled out allowing them to get carbons credit for vegetation on their farms to offset their emissions liabilities, Hoggard began the process of pulling the Feds out.

“It’s been two and a half bloody years or more of dumb regulation after dumb regulation after dumb regulation, and for me, it’s just like, nah, screw it, I’m done with being polite about it,” he told the meeting to applause.

But there were other forces at work.

It was significant that Hoggard made those comments in Invercargill, a part of the country from where the farmer protest movement, Groundswell, draws its strongest support.

“There is no place for an emissions tax on New Zealand agriculture,” it says on its website.

As the President of Federated Farmers Hoggard said last December, the organisation would not support He Waka Eke Noa without a review of the methane targets.

That was an effective veto of the whole proposal despite the leading farmer organisations, Beef and Lamb NZ and DairyNZ, remaining in broad support of the proposal, albeit that they rejected some aspects of the Government’s response last year.

Yesterday Hoggard told “Q+A” that what ACT was saying was “, let’s do what our top five trading partners are also pushing for or are going to do.

“We’d copy them.”

This contrasts with National’s former agriculture spokesperson, Todd Muller, who in February said there was no walking away from dealing with climate change issues and that NZ would have to measure the impact of methane at the farm level.

“Our customers and consumers are demanding that the whole of the NZ agriculture sector provide ongoing provenance that we are the best food producers in the world,” he said.

“Part of that is an expectation that as leaders, we look for solutions in that animal protein space – particularly regarding methane – which doesn’t exist at the moment.

“I also want to hear from the likes of Fonterra and Silver Fern Farms to give voice to those consumers’ expectations so that farmers understand that this is not just some sort of government-driven process.”

National’s agriculture spokesperson, Todd McClay, has said that he wanted to “kick the tyres” on the climate change policy, but now Hoggard’s decision to stand for ACT raises questions about how hard that kick will be.

National strategists are well aware of the impact that the so-called Australian “Teals” had on the Liberal Party vote there at the last election.

Their crucial issue was climate change.

Thus the divide is between National’s urban liberals and the farming establishment and progressive farmers on the one hand and ACT, Federated Farmers and the Groundswell protest movement on the other.